Public Philosophy

Why do reparations arguments fail?Blog of the American Philosophical Association. May 2022.
Reparations for Historic Injustice.” 1000-Word Philosophy: An Introductory Anthology. May 2019.

Dissertation

Fair Play, White Advantage, and Black Reparations

My dissertation advances a new tactical argumentative approach to the political problem of Black reparations in the United States appealing to the normative principle of fair play. Among its core presumptions is the view that getting appreciable numbers of white Americans to acknowledge what I call the primary normative case for Black reparations will require, among other things, a new kind of discursive move, namely: the deployment of an intermediary case designed to facilitate recognition of the primary one. The two central tasks of my dissertation are to establish the need for such an intermediary case, and to make it via my novel fair play argument. 

My approach expands the bounds of existing fair play reasoning by way of three main innovations: First, I develop and defend a new conception of blameless free-riding which involves no necessary reference to any mental states on the part of the relevant agents. Second, I introduce the possibility of deploying the fair play framework in a corrective mode, that is: to ground a redistributive obligation on the part of members of systemically advantaged groups, to the extent that they qualify as blameless free-riders. Third, I argue that in a range of cases those corrective obligations of fair play can qualify as reparative in character despite the fact that their normative force is not determined by direct reference to any discrete identifiable wrongdoing, so long as the conditions that give rise to them are sufficiently causally entangled with past injustice generally. 

A key plank of my proposal is the empirical claim that the lens of fair play is well suited to overcoming many of the moral and social psychological obstacles that have long plagued political progress on Black reparations in the US. I defend this claim by drawing upon various strands of the empirical literature on white racial identity and attitudes toward race-sensitive social policy. I argue that it is only upon coming to accept the myriad ways their very whiteness precipitates the non-voluntary receipt of unearned material advantages that white Americans will begin to perceive their own personal involvement in America’s long history of racial injustice, and feel a new kind of pressure to do something about it. 

Articles Under Review

[Paper on Reparations Argumentation]
This essay concerns the political viability of reparations as a response to contemporary racial inequality in the American context from the perspective of social psychology. I argue that while reparations arguments and other backward-looking approaches face a range of serious moral psychological obstacles associated with felt threats to white self-image and group identity, they should not be abandoned in favor of forward-looking argumentation which aims to bypass the question of how racial inequality was caused. I consider one such forward-looking argument in detail, noting its potential weaknesses, and introduce an alternative reparations argument which focuses explicitly on contemporary white advantage. I motivate this approach by appeal to recent empirical work on how advantaged whites tend to manage a privileged social identity, and show how those dynamics can plug neatly into a new conception of reparative obligations I call extrinsic, whose normative force is sourced in something other than a direct response to past wrongs. The goal is to chart a course whereby advantaged whites can come to see themselves as non-voluntarily situated in enduring racialized structures without inflaming familiar varieties of white defensiveness, thereby helping move the nation toward more robust political engagement with its long history of racial injustice.

[Paper on Externalist Free-Riding]
This essay identifies new work for the principle of fair play, arguing that despite its standard interpretation as a principle of distributive justice, it can ground corrective obligations as well. Specifically, I argue that fair play reasoning can require beneficiaries of structural and systemic maldistributions to relinquish unearned benefits for purposes of redistribution, even when those maldistributions involve no attributions of blame, or harm to relevant others. This argument deploys a new approach to fair play reasoning which I characterize as externalist insofar as it turns on an account of free-riding that involves no necessary appeal to relevant agents’ mental states. I distinguish my obligation to relinquish from one recent attempt to deploy fair play reasoning in service of corrective justice, and note the potential strategic utility of my externalist fair play argument in helping to advance contemporary political discourse around redistributive responses to group-based injustice in the American context.

In Preparation / Progress

“White Privilege and Extrinsic Reparations”
“Fair Play and Systemic Wrongs in Iris Young”
“On the Tactical Deployment of Idealized Cases”
“On the Essential Sociality of Fair Play Reasoning”
“On the Appeal to Sportsmanship in Racial Justice Argument”
“Between Insurrection and Moral Suasion in Anti-Racist Argument”